Punk Goes 80s
Punk Goes ’80s is a compilation with a theme that is self-explanatory: Some nominally punk bands covering some classics of the era. So let’s walk 20 miles with Google and ears into this god-forsaken jungle and see if we can’t emerge from these manoeuvres better enlightened.
The material on collections like these is easily divided into groups.
First, we have the good stuff, re-recordings that deconstruct the originals and build something new in their place:
The Wikipedia says The Early November is “emo.” I don’t know what that is either, but they took Huey Lewis & The News’ so-poppy-it’s-like-heroin “Power Of Love” and slowed and stripped it down. Now it’s mostly just voice and guitar, with just a touch of organ, and suh-weet!
Even better is Jamison Parker’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. This is misprinted “Everyone…” on the sleeve, but it’s a remake of the definitive pop new wave hit by Tears For Fears, guitar-ed down, tech-ed up, and more haunting than ever.
Flock Of Seagulls is one of the few “haircut bands” that not even I have much time for. Hidden In Plain View deserves credit just for sounding like they’re having so much fun playing “I Ran” that it just sticks out like a sore thumb, yet not necessarily in a bad way.
The vast majority of songs on such a compilation, perhaps, will be bands just having fun and, if we’re lucky, conveying that fun to us. Emery’s “Holding Out For A Hero” and Relient K’s “Manic Monday” are the best at that here.
Both also get credit for not changing the lyrics of songs that were originally sung by female lead vocalists. Emery is a bunch of guys singing about needing a big strong man, and with pretty nice vocals, too.
I could have done without the overly emotional caterwauling and wailing guitars at the climax, but wha’ the hell, it’s punk, innit? Relient K includes the line about “kissing Valentino by a crystal blue Italian stream” without a blush — though they do change the bridge a bit to work in a Quiet Riot reference…
Then we have the bands that are unable to find the magic of the original records, but give it a good stab anyway, like Amber Pacific’s “Video Killed the Radio Star” and Brazil’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger”.
Rufio’s take on “Don’t You Forget About Me,” the theme song from The Breakfast Club, is a little from column A and a little from column B. It doesn’t add quite enough to the original, but it’s not an overly slavish imitation either. Sugarcult’s “I Melt With You” is the same way.
Unlike, say, A Thorn For Every Heart’s “Dead Man’s Party”. Well played, to be sure, but you’ll miss the horn section, and the lead singer really should have been discouraged from imitating Danny Elfman.
And Gatsby’s American Dream’s “Just Like Heaven” is nice enough, I suppose, but, y’know… it’s a Cure song
And then there’s the bottom of the barrel:
Unfortunately, the “Forever Young” included here is not the stark modern rock hit by Alphaville, it’s the god-awful MOR hit by Rod Stewart. So They Say doesn’t add much to it, but then again, what could?
Motion City Soundtrack and Halifax likewise don’t add enough to their versions of songs by R.E.M and Paula Abdul respectively.
Some of these bands don’t sound very punk to me. Midtown in particular seem to have an awful lot of throbbing keyboards on their version of an Outfield song, especially for the “101% rockers” they consider themselves to be.
But then, I love ’80s pop. Not because I’m being clever or ironic, but because I really love it and think the early-to-mid-’80s is an underrated period in music history, primarily because most of those who have done the rating are old hippies who can’t see the songs for the synths.
Asking me to identify a punk band is like asking Nelly Furtado not to trade on sexist appeal.